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Servicemembers need to protect their identity, credit

by 1st Lt. Erin Dorrance
6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Graphic by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman

What do you worry about at night? Your retirement fund? West Nile Virus? Whether or not you were suppose to bring a gift to your boss' engagement party?

According to USA Today, a survey revealed that more people worry about identity theft than losing their job.

Several Air Force members were annoyed and worried when they came to work Aug. 18 and found that an unauthorized user accessed 33,300 Assignment Management System records with their personal information to include social security numbers, date of birth and other information. Air Force members experienced a similar blow a few months ago when Bank of America, the bank which holds a military contract for government travel credit cards, discovered the personal information of more than 25,000 servicemembers was lost in December of 2004.

Although no activity has been connected to the servicemember's information lost and stolen in the above cases, it is crucial for everyone to monitor their credit reports and protect themselves.

A 6th Air Mobility Wing member who requested to remain anonymous experienced identity theft when he received a phone call from Dell Financial Services.

The bill collector told him that his wife was late on her payment for the $3,000 plasma TV she bought from Dell, he said. When he asked the Dell representative what address the TV was delivered to, they were not shocked to find out it was not their house.

The couple followed all the proper steps to take when one finds out they have been attacked by an identify thief. Luckily, the cops were able to find the woman who signed for the plasma TV and traced the stolen information she used to create the account from a medical provider that the servicemember's wife once visited.

"After 40 hours, spread over three to four months, we finally cleared up the issue," he said.

This servicemember's experience is much different from many cases in that people usually do not find out how their personal information was accessed. The Federal Trade Commission says there were approximately 10 million identity theft victims in the U.S. in 2002 and this resulted in losses of $5 billion in out-of-pocket expenses to correct damage and prove they were indeed victims.

Identity theft is not always the result of damaged credit.

A lieutenant colonel who was assigned to MacDill in 2001 who also requested to remain anonymous said he was woken up at 3 a.m. by his doorbell and was greeted by agents from the CIA, FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency. The agents quickly discovered that a drug trafficker from Colombia had stolen his identity and used it to gain entryinto the U.S. to smuggle narcotics. This identity theft case wreaked havoc for Office of Special Investigation agents who had a case of stolen identity on a servicemember with a classified security clearance.

Several companies have noticed people's fear in losing their identity and good credit scores to thieves, and have marketed new programs to include computer software, identity theft insurance and credit report monitoring programs.

Computer spyware has been designed to scan for computer spies, which can include common cookies used to track which Websites you visit, to key strike loggers that capture every username and password a user types by recording every key stroke and screen shots of Websites. To safe guard your computer, avoid downloads, especially from unknown or unsecured sites. Additionally, you should run spyware and scan your computer often. A free spyware program is available from Lavasoft called Ad-Aware and is recommended to be installed on all MacDill computers by the 6th Communications Squadron Help Desk. MacDill workgroup managers can download this spyware program on your work computer.

Once your computer is protected from key loggers, you can protect yourself with identity theft insurance. Many insurance plans can be purchased as part of your homeowners or renters insurance. If your insurance company does not offer the insurance, you can buy a stand-alone policy for as little as $25 a year.

Identity theft insurance covers the expenses associated with reclaiming your financial identity, which may include long-distance phone calls, lost wages as a result of time off work, notary and certified mailing costs for delivering affidavits, loan application fees for re-applying for loans declined from information reflecting identity theft and attorney fees.

Another option that consumers may consider is daily credit monitoring and alerts through one of the three credit services, TransUnion, Experian or Equifax. For an annual or monthly fee, these services will e-mail and call individuals within 24 hours of a change to a person's credit report. Most of the services also include identity theft insurance with the credit monitoring service packages [see box.]

Beyond insurance and credit monitoring, the Federal Trade Commission has enacted an "active duty alert" which helps to minimize the risk of identity theft while military personnel are deployed. When a business sees the alert on a servicemember's credit report, they must verify the identity before issuing credit. Active duty alerts are effective for one year, unless the servicemember chooses to remove the alert. To place an active duty alert, you can call one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies:

* Equifax:1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com

* Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com

* TransUnion:1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com

Although there are several new tools available to help people handle identity theft situations, the actual work and stress to straighten out the breech in your personal information remains your problem. However, the faster the breech is caught, the easier it is to resolve.

Credit Report Safeguards

TransUnion (www.transunion.com)
Weekly e-mails are sent disclosing possible fraud situations. These include new inquiries about your credit, new accounts opened in your name and any late payments. TransUnion charges $10.95 quarterly or $43.80 per year for TrueCredit. Purchasers also get a quarterly look at their credit report. TransUnion also throws in $25,000 in insurance, which covers lost wages, legal fees and other odds and ends.

Experian (www.experian.com)
This company offers Credit Manager for $89.95 annually. For that amount, customers are promised an e-mail notification within 24 hours of any event that may indicate fraud. Those events include new inquiries, new accounts, negative information, changes in address and public record items.

Equifax (www.equifax.com)
In a program called Credit Watch Gold, subscribers will get an e-mail within 24 hours after suspicious activity is noted. If there is no activity, an e-mail is dispatched monthly saying so. Included is a $20,000 insurance policy with no deductible. Subscribers get immediate access to an identity fraud specialist. And they can see their credit report at any time. Equifax's Gold service is the most expensive of the three at $99.95 per year. The company also offers family coverage at even higher prices. It tops out at $714 per year for 11 people. The company also has a Silver service for $49.95 per year. Suspicious activity is reported within seven days with Silver Service. Insurance is cut to $2,500, and only one credit report is free.

(Courtesy of Gannett News Service and Air Force Times)

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